Today the National Domestic Workers Alliance released a report detailing the mistreatment of domestic workers in the United States. This is the first national survey of domestic workers in the US and covers issues such as pay rates, benefits, relations with employers and employer compliance with agreement, workplace conditions and abuse. 2087 nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners were surveyed for the report representing workers from 71 countries. The survey covered 14 metropolitan areas of the US.
Domestic work is intimate. These are the people who care for children in families, who sometimes live with their employers, and who are entrusted in private places to tend to physical and emotional needs. While many come to view their domestic help as family members because of the close proximity in which they work with children and the elderly, in addition to the long hours spent on the job, employers still subject their domestic employees to conditions that leave them at risk physically and financially.
Nearly a quarter of the workers surveyed in this new study are paid less than their state’s minimum wage law, while 70% are paid less than $13 an hour. Pay for live-in workers is especially low with the median hourly wage of $6.15 an hour.
It’s rare for domestic workers to receive any kind of benefits. Less than 2% receive a pension or retirement benefits from their employer, and less than 9% work for employers who pay into Social Security. Over half of domestic workers surveyed did not have health insurance.
Domestic workers have been excluded from key federal labor laws and standards, and this has to do with the history of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which excluded domestic and farm workers. At the time, most black workers in the South worked on farms or in people’s homes. Since this law excluded these workers from organizing into unions, a system of white domination and exploitation was set up that would continue until the present. Today live-in domestic workers are excluded from overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Furthermore, domestic workers are not protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act protections, despite routine exposure to toxic chemicals and unsafe conditions on the job.
Linda Burnham, the National Research Coordinator for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, explained, “The absence of labor protections has a long history related to compromises made in Congress decades ago that led to the extension of protections and rights to some sectors of the labor force while ensuring that employers maintained access to cheap domestic and farm labor. We have not yet broken with that legacy, and the reasons are complex. Though many employers take the high road and provide workers with living wages and decent working conditions, many others take advantage of a work force that is isolated and out of sight in employers’ homes. While it is true that employers rely on domestic workers and develop complicated bonds of affection and inter-dependence, this does not ensure that they take their responsibilities as employers seriously.”
Overwhelmingly female (95%) and ethnic minority (54% of survey respondents identify as Latina, black, Asian, Pacific Islander or “some other race” other than white), domestic workers are at a distinct economic disadvantage in terms of basic protections and the ability to earn livable wages.
While this is the first domestic worker study that incorporates a large sample of domestic worker surveys from across the country, activists have long known about the low pay, lack of benefits and hazardous conditions and have been working for basic protections in public policy. Two years ago in New York, the state enacted the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to help workers address poor working conditions. And more recently in California this past September, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar measure that would have provided overtime pay and meal breaks for domestic workers in the Golden State.
Politic365 asked the National Domestic Workers Alliance advocacy efforts at the state level in California since Governor Brown did veto the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights despite it passing in the state legislature. Ai-jen Poo, the Director of the National Domestic Worker Alliance, said, “There are a range of champions in state legislatures. Many legislators have mothers, aunts and grandmothers who worked as domestic workers. Many supporters are champions of the rights of women or workers, or immigrants. There will certainly be many champions in California who will push the legislation forward, and we are also confident that the Governor will support the legislation in the future. Senator Kevin de Leon and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano in California will continue to provide leadership to move the bill forward.”